Design for the Tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere

Artist: Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, Caprese 1475–1564 Rome)

Date: 1505–6

Medium: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over stylus ruling and leadpoint

Dimensions: 20-1/16 x 12-9/16 in. (51 x 31.9 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1962

Accession Number: 62.93.1


By 1505, eight years before his death, Pope Julius II della Rovere had plans for a grandiose tomb in Saint Peter's Basilica (Vatican City) and entrusted Michelangelo with the project. As described in Ascanio Condivi's biography of Michelangelo (1553), the tomb was to have been a three-story freestanding monument and may have included as many as forty-seven large figures carved of Carrara marble. Michelangelo's project was interrupted by other papal commissions, chiefly his frescoing of the Sistine Ceiling from 1508 to 1512. Following the pope's death in February 1513, Michelangelo signed a second contract, for a reduced version of the tomb to be completed in seven years. The Metropolitan Museum's drawing reflects this version. Its diagrammatic clarity of form and precise construction of architectural elements are typical of modelli, drawings made to present a design to a patron or the members of a workshop. The massive tomb ensemble was to be a three-sided structure attached to a wall. In a daring departure from tradition, Michelangelo designed the pope's effigy to be seen frontally. Within the arched niche, angels raise the dead pope toward the Virgin and Child. The acorn finials on the thrones and the scene of manna from heaven reinvented with an oak tree are references to Julius's family name and coat of arms (in Italian, rovere means "oak"). "The tragedy of the tomb," as Condivi described Michelangelo's forty-year ordeal, did not end until 1545, when the present, sadly scaled-down structure was installed in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, far away from the papal majesty of Saint Peter's Basilica.